Saturday, 14 March 2009

A fake scandal in a teacup

Broadcaster TV3 and the Labour Party this week tried to manufacture a "secret scandal", misleading the public by making false claims about plans to allocate an extra staff member to MPs of large electorates.

The National Party has agreed to $400,000 in new funding to let MPs with large geographic electorates hire an extra "out of Parliament" staff member.

3 News tried to spin the policy as a "jobs for the boys" decision by National, noting the money will help "mainly its MPs and friends in the Maori Party".

The 3 News story wrongly claimed that "initially, John Key and Tariana Turia agreed the Maori electorates would be the only ones getting the extra funding because they are so big... Key has extended that to help four of his own MPs."

That is just sloppy (or deliberately misleading) journalism. The plan was listed in the "Confidence and Supply Agreement" between National and the Maori Party (signed on November 16th 2008). It was a document freely available to all media and members of the public (and linked to by news websites, including TV3).

The document highlighted the issue of 'Electorate Resources'...
The challenges of servicing the disproportionately large size of the Maori electorates will be addressed through immediate implementation of the recommendation from the March 2007 report of the Committee of the Third Triennial Review (Goulter report).

There is inequity in respect of the support that Parliament provides the very large electorates compared to the very small ones. One comparison is between Te Tai Tonga (147,000 sq km) and Epsom (22 sq km).

That recommendation reads:
That all Maori constituent Members of Parliament and each constituency Member of Parliament with an electorate in excess of 20,000 sq km in area be entitled to the services of an extra staff member to equate to three full-time equivalent out of Parliament support staff members”

Homepaddock has the response from National's Gerry Brownlee, where he takes aim at the attempted beat-up and false reporting...
“This funding increase was clearly spelled out in the post-election agreement the National Party reached with the Maori Party as long ago as November last year,” Mr Brownlee said.

It has been a freely available public document since then, even if some journalists haven’t read it. To state that we haven’t told anyone and have secretly extended it to National MPs is a shocker.”

“The increase is something that was recommended by an independent review”
TV3 tried to label the story as an "Exclusive", which is a bit of a stretch for something that has largely been in the public arena since last November.

As well as the section in the National-Maori Party agreement, many people including Homepaddock blogged in detail about this last year.

She listed the electorates which would qualify under that agreement, questioning the inclusion of the urban Maori seat of Tamaki Makaurau (held by Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples), which covers just 730 sq km.

Tamaki Makaurau has been rightly been dropped from the final policy, although there are still two rural seats larger than the next lowest funded Maori seat (East Coast: 13,649 sq km, and Taranaki-King Country: 12,869 sq km... compared to the funded Labour-held Maori seat of Hauraki-Waikato: 12,580 sq km).

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